Founded on 16 June 2008, the Social Justice Coalition is a democratic, mass-based social movement that campaigns for the advancement of the constitutional rights to life, dignity, equality, freedom and safety for all people, but especially those living in informal settlements across South Africa. Our campaigns are based on research, education, and advocacy and divided across two programmes. The Local Government Programme leads our organizing for the rights of informal settlement residents to dignity, equality, and justice. The Safety and Justice Programme leads our campaigns to ensure all people have access to a democratic and effective police and criminal justice system.
The SJC’s community organizers’ mandate is to strengthen residents of informal settlements’ capacity to demand and fight for their constitutional rights. We saw a rise in demolitions in informal settlements such as Empolweni, Ethembeni and Mfuleni to name a few since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the national state of disaster. Our community organizers have been present in informal settlements to play an oversight role as human rights monitors accredited by the South African Human Rights Commision to monitor and report any human rights abuses. And these included abuses by the City of Cape Town’s law enforcement who sought to unlawfully evict poor black people into homeless in winter and during a pandemic.
It is noteworthy that the impact of the national state of disaster set in place in response to the Covid-19 global pandemic has immensely affected the economy, businesses and mostly ordinary people especially those with precarious jobs and accommodation. Further to that News24 reported that about 3 million South Africans have lost their jobs with women accounting for two million of those. The impact of job losses directly affects people’s ability to pay for their accommodation and this is what we are currently seeing in our communities such as Khayelitsha and Mfuleni for example. Backyarders and tenants have been evicted into homelessness by their landlords during the lockdown period with nowhere else to go.
In the absence of the City’s intervention to provide adequate housing in terms of section 26 of the Constitution the reality is that families have been evicted into homelessness. Instead of addressing the issue of homelessness in the Western Cape, the City of Cape Town is criminalizing poor black people for seeking accommodation by occupying land which is their constitutional right. It is quiet unfortunate that instead of working together with civil society organizations such as the SJC and NU on service delivery issues that affect poor black people in informal settlements, the City of Cape Town in turn continues to mandate and authorize its law enforcement officials to demolish homes of poor black people. And further, intimidate our organizers when they request court orders authorizing such demolitions even after the lockdown regulations have clearly stated that evictions are prohibited during the lockdown period. .
We note with great concern the statements made by the City of Cape Town’s JP Smith during the Western Cape’s standing committee on human settlements briefing. The statements by JP Smith were reckless and infringe on the various constitutional rights of our staff members who tirelessly work towards entrenching and reaffirming the rights of poor black people residing in informal settlements in 2020. Such statements will not be condoned and tolerated by the SJC as they aim to silence and target human rights defenders. As the SJC we do not take these statements lightly and will be seeking legal advice on which legal remedies are available to us in holding the City of Cape Town accountable.